Child Protection Perspectives: Initiating the Conversation

Just Court ADR by Susan M. Yates,Jennifer Shack, Heather Scheiwe Kulp, and Jessica Glowinski.

As April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we at RSI wanted to shine some attention on the work we are doing related to the development of the new Child Protection Mediation Program in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Kane County, Illinois, as well as the other work RSI has done in using court ADR as a tool to address the issues of child abuse and neglect.

While our work at RSI is often about data, when it comes to child protection (a term which is meant to capture the broad array of cases in which children have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect), it is hard not to talk about the personal element.  Prior to joining RSI, much of my work had been as an advocate at the intersections of special education, juvenile justice and the child welfare and foster systems. These seemingly independent worlds actually collide frequently, and illustrate some of the many complexities involved in handling cases of child abuse and neglect. When I worked as an intern in the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, we were brought in to represent children in criminal matters, but to fully address their needs we had to triage and advocate for them with regards to their educational issues and home situations. When you factor in families whose primary language is not English and/or whose culture differs from American norms, you can really appreciate the juggling that family court judges have to do to accommodate all the interests before them.

You can also understand why the judges in Kane County, site of one of our three foreclosure mediation programs, asked for our assistance in creating a program to facilitate the complicated conversations needed to give these kids a real shot at a stable, loving home. In 2014, the last year for which data is available, there were some 4,200 allegations of abuse and/or neglect, over 1,000 of which were substantiated. Not all of those cases will come before the court, but many will, and when you multiply that number by the number of issues to be resolved in each one, the need for an open, collaborative forum to address these cases becomes clear.

As RSI’s Resource Center Director, my work is focused on making the court ADR research we and others have developed accessible to others. My goal is to make sure that every court ADR program administrator, judge and stakeholder has the information they need to ensure their program is maximizing its potential to provide access to justice. To be sure, it’s a step removed from the work of my colleague Hanna Kaufman, Director of ADR Programs, or our Kane County courthouse-based Program Manager, Kevin Malone, both of whom are firmly in the trenches (they’ll be writing a post later this month with their perspectives). However, my role as RSI’s “information liaison” allows me to empower courts to address some of our justice system’s biggest problems, and I can think of no more worthwhile problem to address than improving the outcomes of our most vulnerable children.

I am really looking forward to seeing what RSI, the 16th Judicial Circuit Court of Kane County and our other partners can do with this program. One example of the fruits of our work in this field is our 2010 evaluation of Cook County’s Child Protection Mediation Program; we hope that our work in Kane County will similarly enable us to share the insights we gain from administering and monitoring the program with other courts running or trying to develop these types of programs. Additionally, our CourtADR.org Research Library contains many items in this arena, and we expect it to add many more as we further hone our expertise on the subject.

If you are part of a court-connected child protection mediation program, I’d love to hear from you. Just as these programs facilitate the conversations that help repair relationships and prevent further abuse or neglect, I hope that RSI’s outreach will facilitate the conversations that strengthen child protection mediation programs nationwide.

                        author

Eric Slepak

Eric Slepak-Cherney is the Associate Director at Resolution Systems Institute (RSI), a Chicago-based nonprofit that works to improve access to justice through court alternative dispute resolution. In this role, he assists in setting the strategic vision for RSI, coordinating the development and administration of the organization’s programs, and managing its… MORE >

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